Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

 

Title: The Sixteenth Chapter
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1201731h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Aug 2014
Most recent update: Aug 2014

This eBook was produced by Maurie Mulcahy and Roy Glashan.

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE


The Sixteenth Chapter

by

Fred M. White

Published in The Daily News, Perth, Australia, 9 Aug 1911

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2014
Produced by Maurie Mulcahy and Roy Glashan

Click here for more books by this author



THE evidence had been dead against the prisoner all day. He sat in the dock listening to the damning testimony like a man in a dream. To all practical purposes he was a man in a dream. The whole thing was a hideous nightmare from which he would awake, presently, sweating and trembling as one does on these occasions. It was all terribly real and grimly true to life, but still—

Otherwise—well, otherwise he was the victim of some insidious form of madness. He was suffering from the same kind of mania that impels law-abiding citizens secure in the affections of wife and family to rise up suddenly with uplifted weapon and red tragedy whispering in his ear. Perhaps he had been mad during the last few days. Perhaps he had forged that cheque for 2,000 and got Markwick to cash it in Liverpool. It was possible, after all, that the evidence of the doctor was true.

"I think we will adjourn on this point," the magistrate said. "Bail? As a matter of public duty, I ought to refuse bail. After listening to Dr. Swayland's evidence—yes, I quite recognise the state of the prisoner's health. But simply because he happens to be a morphiamaniac, I cannot see—"

The inspector in charge of the case did not oppose bail. Masters fumbled his way out of the dock and thence into the street. He did not fail to notice the grave look on his lawyer's face. The evidence had been terribly strong.

"You're lucky," the lawyer said. "Now the case is adjourned till Monday. That gives us two clear days to prepare our defence. But you will have to be more candid with me, Masters. You told me distinctly that you had not been to Liverpool—"

"I told you the truth," Masters said doggedly. "I have not been in Liverpool. I have not been out of London for the last three months."

The lawyer shrugged his shoulders. He was a little annoyed, too.

"How long have you been taking that infernal drug?" he asked. "I'm told that morphia plays all sorts of tricks with a man's memory, produces hallucinations, and so on. You may honestly believe that you have not been to Liverpool, and yet—"

"I've thought of all that," Masters smiled bitterly. "I'm either hopelessly mad or I am the victim of the vilest conspiracy ever invented. Consciously, I've never taken a grain of morphia in my life."

"But you heard what that Liverpool doctor said? Man of the highest standing, too. He swore to-day that he was called in to attend you in Liverpool on the evening of the day on which the forged cheque was cashed there. He found you in a state of coma induced by a heavy dose of morphia. Everything pointed to the fact that you were habitually given to the drug. Swayland swore to you in the most positive manner. So did the landlady of the house in Liverpool where you stayed."

Masters locked his hands together. He trembled with a sudden gust of passion.

"I give it up," he said. "I swear before heaven that I know nothing about it. Never in my life have I touched a drug. I have been before the magistrates every day this week; I have gone home at night, to my lonely quarters. Come and stay with me if you like; lock me in a room and see what happens. If I were a drug-fiend I should go mad before morning. But what is the use of talking about it? I want sleep—a good long night's rest to get my head right. I tell you those few days were all of a blank to me. I am still suffering from that infernal drug, but I never administered it to myself. Perhaps to-morrow I shall be able to recollect something."

Pannett, the lawyer, was fain to let it go at that. Masters had better come and see him to-morrow morning; meanwhile he would be wise to retire to his lodgings and keep as quiet as possible. With this resolution uppermost in his mind, Masters made his way home. He was an ambitious young man, with a fine prospect before him, and he was saving money with a view to getting married. The big farm where he was engaged had a warehouse out Marylebone way, and in one of the upper rooms there Masters had established himself. There was no rent to pay, which was a consideration, and the furniture would go presently to garnish the house he had in his eye when the right time came. An aged caretaker dusted the rooms and made the bed, and as to his meals, Masters got them all outside. There was no meanness on his part; it was merely prudence. Some of these days he was pretty certain to be asked to join his firm, and the more money he could bring in the better for his future prospects. The money was not quite what it had been, for Masters had been dabbling on the stock market, coming in at the wrong time for him, unfortunately. His shares would be all right presently, but just now they were depressed, and could only have been disposed of at a great sacrifice.

Masters came moodily into his room. There was nothing inviting about the place to-day, though usually he was rather proud of it. The furniture was frankly after the pattern which is spoken of as Tottenham Court Road, the carpet a 'Turkey,' the engravings on the walls after Sant and others of the same school. The paper was a self-colored green, with just a suggestion of art about it. The bed was folded away in a recess behind a curtain. Clearly in this respect Masters had a good deal to learn from an artistic point of view.

His moody face cleared as he saw who it was seated there in the saddle-back armchair. The atmosphere was flavored with cigarette smoke.

"Now this is really kind of you, Roscoe," Masters exclaimed. "I was just telling myself that I hadn't a friend in the world. I don't say I had quite given you up—"

"I owe to you too much for that," Roscoe replied. "You helped me when my trouble came, and I have not forgotten it. Had it not been for you, I should still be slaving at a desk instead of being a free man with a decent reputation as a writer."

"You mean a distinguished novelist," Masters smiled faintly. "You need not shake your head. Your last book, the 'Primrose Path,' has established your reputation. By the way, I have to thank you for getting your publishers to send me the book on the day of publication. I got it on Monday week. After that strange fainting fit of mine on the Wednesday before, my people insisted upon my taking a few days' holiday. They wanted me to go away, but really I could not afford it. I read your book for three evenings instead. I can't say how much I liked it."

"Despite the missing chapter?" Roscoe asked.

"What missing chapter?" Masters inquired. "My copy was complete."

"Indeed, it wasn't, if you got it from my publishers on Monday. As a matter of fact, a whole sheet of type was missing. There was an extraordinary blunder on the part of the binders which was discovered early on the aforesaid Monday. Only about six copies were despatched, and yours must have been one of them. It was Wednesday afternoon or Wednesday night that the bulk of the copies left my publishers. I am perfectly clear on this point. Your copy was incomplete, and it's very strange that so careful a reader as yourself should have overlooked the fact."

Masters shook his head obstinately.

"I didn't," he said. "Now, tell me what really was missing."

"Well, perhaps the most important chapter in the book. It was a very long chapter, and the whole story turns on it. It is where the hero meets 'Abergoyne,' and he tells him that the engagements to 'Nancy' cannot possibly—"

"But I remember that," Masters cried. "Your heroine overhears the conversation, and decides that it is her bounden duty to stand aside and—"

"But all that was not in your copy," Roscoe shouted.

"If it wasn't, then how did I manage to read it?" Masters retorted. "Let's clear up this mystery, at any rate. I have enough one way and another to madden me. There is my copy of your book on the shelf yonder. See for yourself."

Roscoe took down the volume eagerly. His restless fingers fluttered over the pages. He turned with an air of triumph to his companion.

"What did I tell you?" he demanded. "Pages from 120 to 152 are missing. You have only to look at the numbers and see that for yourself."

Masters appeared to give up the unequal contest.

"I am mad!" he said. "Either that, or I am the only sane man now left on the earth! The pages are clearly missing, and yet I have read them despite the fact that they are not in the book! Now, will you kindly explain how such a thing could possibly happen? After my illness, I slept all day on Monday and woke in the evening feeling better. I took up your book and read some ninety pages before going to bed. All Tuesday I was more or less in a state of coma, and again I came to in the evening, and ate some food that my old charwoman had apparently laid out for me, and I went on with your book. I have the most vivid recollection of this missing chapter sixteen, because to my mind it is by far the best part of the story. And yet you prove to me absolutely beyond a demonstration that I couldn't have read it, because it wasn't there! I haven't seen you for months, so there is no question of our having discussed your plot. And I don't for one moment believe that there is anything occult in this business. I am quite sure that it is capable of a plain explanation. Now, you are a man with a vivid imagination. Let us go over the thing from the start. You know the charges against me."

"Of course I do," Roscoe said. "You are accused of forging a cheque on the Liverpool bankers of your firm for 2,000. You went secretly to Liverpool when you were supposed to be lying ill here, and got Markwick, the cashier of your Liverpool office, to negotiate the cheque. It was an idiotic thing to do, because the forgery was bound to come out almost at once. It did come out, and one or two of the notes received, in change for the cheque were found here. You swore point blank that for the first three days of last week you were here in London, and that you had not left your rooms. On the other hand, Markwick swears that you called upon him at that time in Liverpool and got him to change the cheque. A respectable woman swears that you had her rooms for a day or two, and a doctor of repute who attended you proved your identity beyond question."

"Did you hear all the evidence today then?"

"Certainly I did. I attended the Court on purpose. I have been away for some weeks in Wales, and only heard of your trouble last night. In all the course of my experience I never heard anything so profoundly interesting. I have been turning it over in my mind ever since. I could not make head nor tail of it, and I was still absolutely in the dark when I came here. But I begin to see a little light now."

"Do you?" Masters sneered. "To me it is blacker than ever. This business of the missing chapter fairly dazes me."

"Well, so it did me for the moment," Roscoe said candidly. "But it fired my imagination, and I begin to see my way. I'm working the thing out as I should work out the plot of a story. What sort of a chap is Markwick?"

"Markwick? Oh, well, not particularly fascinating, suspicious and moody."

"Jealous of any change. Likely to benefit by your, er, trouble?"

"Probably. We are rivals, you understand. I got the post he expected to have. He did not like being moved to Liverpool."

"Oh, oh," Roscoe purred softly. He moved about the room restlessly, his eyes gleaming. "Two thousand pounds is a deal of money. If a man could possess himself of that and get rid of his most dangerous rival at the same time, it would be worth a little risk. And the thing could be done without a confederate. Upon my word, Masters, I begin to see my way. I want to be certain of one thing first; but there's little doubt about it."

"And what might that particular thing be?" Masters asked.

"Why, that you were in Liverpool on that eventful Tuesday. And you were. I have no more doubt of that than I have of my own identity."

Masters spread out his hands with a gesture of despair.

"Have it your own way," he said resignedly. "I am entirely at your disposal. You will go on to tell me presently that I am a morphiamaniac—say that my moral nature has been totally undermined by the drug and that I have committed forgery unconsciously."

"My boy," Roscoe said solemnly; "you did not commit the forgery at all. Now you have two clear days before you in which to make inquiries. That should be ample time. Let us go to Liverpool together this evening. You'd better let the police know that you are going, or they may be disposed to make trouble. Liverpool is a port, remember! We will go and see Dr. Swayland in the first place and ascertain from him the address where he called to see you. Then, we will go to that address and interview the landlady there. We may have some little trouble after that, but every criminal is a fool in some matters, and I don't suppose that we shall find our man any wiser than the rest. I have studied this subject pretty carefully, and I always find that your criminal commits some act of amazing folly. Even the most brilliant of them is tripped up by some puerile stupidity that the average schoolboy would have foreseen. It's the sanguine temperament that does it. And now what do you say to my suggestion?"

Masters caught at it eagerly enough. Anything was better than eating his heart out in the seclusion of his room. It was ten o'clock on the Saturday morning that Masters found himself face to face with Dr. Swayland. Roscoe had asked for a few words in private beforehand, and to this suggestion the doctor had agreed. Much to Masters's surprise, he came forward with extended hand.

"I am glad to see you again," he said. "You must believe me when I say that this is not the first time we have met, Mr. Masters. The evidence I gave against you yesterday was true in every detail. Frankly, I deemed you guilty. But Mr. Roscoe has propounded a theory so extraordinary and so ingenious that I began to have my doubts. Naturally, I took you for a morphiamaniac, and when I was called in you were suffering from that drug. Allow me to see your tongue—your pulse. Now if I may be permitted to look at the inside of your eyelids. No signs of a drug victim here. Somebody must have been administering some pretty severe doses to you surreptitiously. And yet they were careful not to give you more than your system could stand. When did it begin?"

"On the Friday before I was supposed to be in Liverpool," Masters explained. "I had gone back to the office after a light luncheon, and I collapsed at my desk. On the Sunday I was all right; but for the next three days I was unconscious till nightfall."

"You will please make a note of that, doctor," Roscoe said. "Till nightfall!"

"I did not call in a doctor because I hoped to get better," Masters went on. "I felt so much better up till bedtime. I think that is about all."

"Enough for the present," said Roscoe. "Now, doctor, will you please give me the address where you found my friend here on that eventful night. We will come back later in the day, and report progress. Let us be moving, Masters."

They came presently to the address given by Swayland, a small respectable house, the door of which was opened by a neat-looking, elderly woman of the housekeeper class. She started as she caught sight of Masters, and seemed inclined to close the door.

"You must really allow us to come inside," Roscoe said. "We particularly desire to see the room occupied by my friend here last week."

"Oh, well, there is no harm in that," the woman said grudgingly. "The room belonged to a lodger of mine who has gone away. He was only here for a little time, and, as the work took him about the country, he allowed me to make a few shillings when I got the chance of letting his apartment."

"Did he furnish the room himself?" Roscoe asked.

"Well, he did, sir," the landlady replied. "He was rather particular. It was a bed-sitting room and when he brought his own things here I stored my bits of sticks elsewhere. Mr. Claytor promised to have his stuff taken away, but he hasn't done it yet."

Roscoe's eyes sparkled. He stepped briskly along the passage.

"I'm glad to hear that," he said. "Come along, Masters. We need not trouble you my good woman. You need not be afraid that we shall steal anything. My dear Masters, we are very near to the end of your trouble. The amazing carelessness of the criminal, however clever he is, comes to our assistance. The ruffians have gained their end, and they have not troubled to take away the apparatus. Look at this."

Masters stood in the little sitting-room with a puzzled expression on his face. Roscoe stepped across to a book case on the wall, and took down a copy of the 'Primrose Path.' With an air of triumph he handed it to Masters.

"There is one mystery explained," he said. "You began my story in London with the incomplete copy, and you finished it here, with the amended edition of the book. Those cunning rascals foresaw everything. They knew that you would look for the book, and perhaps seek it outside the room. If you had done that you would have discovered that you were not in London, as you imagined, but in Liverpool. By Tuesday evening, they would have procured a proper copy of my story here, and that is the copy that you hold in your hand."

"I begin to see," Masters murmured. "But look at this room. It is the exact copy of mine in London! Pull down the blinds and light the gas, and it is the same room!"

"Precisely," Roscoe smiled. "By some cunning means yet to be discovered, you were dosed with morphia every morning early. For three night's you woke up with the impression that you were in your own room. You had food to eat, and you thought that your landlady had provided you with it. Besides, you were so dull and stupid with the drug that you had not the energy to ask anything. Of course, it was that business of the missing chapter that first set me on the right track. It would be so easy to get strong evidence against you by calling the doctor in. That was a stroke of genius. When we come to inquire we shall find that you were brought here by some stranger in a motor, and that the said motor conveyed you from here to London. You can see for yourself how careless the knaves have been. They got the money, and no doubt they intended to remove their goods and pictures, but probably they are too busy enjoying themselves instead. They fancy that the rope is round your neck, especially as some of the notes the cheque was exchanged for were found in your room. In your lonely quarters it was so easy to get at you, to convey you here, and take you back to London again. Of course Markwick is at the bottom of it—he and somebody called Claytor. The latter was the genius who furnished these rooms like yours. Now give me the address of your firm here, and I'll wire Markwick in the name of Claytor to meet us here at once. It is long odds that Claytor is away spending his share of the plunder, and, naturally, Markwick will be in a fright lest anything is wrong. Let's have the address."

An hour later the door of the room opened, and Markwick came in. He gave one glance at Masters, and another round the familiar apartment, and retracted his steps. His dark face grew pale and moist as Roscoe tackled him.

"No, you don't," he said. "You'll just stay here until I have finished talking to you. Now listen carefully to my story, Mr. Markwick, and correct me when I am wrong. I shall not be wrong very often, because I'm rather good at telling stories."

Markwick dropped sullenly into a chair. He nodded his head from time to time, but on the whole he had few corrections to make.

"What's the good of going on?" he muttered sullenly.

Roscoe smiled as he rang the bell.

"Not the least," he said. "Sorry to trouble you, my good woman but will you kindly call in a policeman. This gentleman needs his services."


THE END